Stunning solar flare causes radio blackouts in the South Pacific

Solar flares could occur more frequently, and more intensely, as Sun activity proceeds towards an expected maximum in 2025

Jon Kelvey
Monday 07 November 2022 21:26 GMT

A solar flare erupted from a sunspot Sunday, causing moderate radio blackouts over areas of the South Pacific on Earth on Monday.

A solar flare is an explosion and concomitant eruption of radiation from the surface of the Sun. Some solar flares also trigger coronal mass ejections, plumes of charged particles flung free of the Sun and which can interrupt communications and damage electric grids or satellites when reaching Earth.

Sunday’s solar flare erupted from a sunspot around 7.11pm EST, according to a post to social media website Twitter by Alex C. Young, a heliophysicist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The solar flare measured an M5.2 intensity on the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) solar flare intensity scale. Noaa considers M-class flares to be moderate to strong, more powerful than C-class flares, but not as powerful as X-class flares, which range in intensity from strong, to severe, to extreme.

The strongest solar flare seen in 2022 was an X2.2 flare on 20 April, while the strongest solar flare ever recorded was an X28 flare seen in 2003.

The charged particles and magnetic fields sometimes flung loose from the Sun following a solar flare, known as coronal mass ejections, can interact with Earth’s magnetic field and cause geomagnetic storms. At their most mild, these interactions create the northern and southern auroras, but they can also interrupt radio communications or even damage satellites, directly or indirectly — on 4 February, a geomagnetic storm caused the Earth’s atmosphere to swell just enough to pull 40 newly launched SpaceX satellites out of orbit.

Sunday’s solar flare sent particles toward Earth that resulted in temporary radio blackouts over the Pacific Ocean, according to Dr Young.

The Sun goes through a roughly 11-year cycle of activity, with less solar flares and other ativity during solar minimum, and the most flares during solar maximum. The Sun is currently ramping up toward another solar maximum expected to occur in 2025.

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